Jemma Beggs casts a critical eye over Mercury Theatre Wales’ production of Anamnesis, directed by and starring Bethan Morgan.
- Psychology: A recalling to memory; recollection.
- Medicine: The complete history recalled and recounted by a patient.
A clanging bell signals the beginning of visiting hours as the audience are herded into the hospital ward, where five patients lie listlessly, attached to drips. Huddling near the back of the theatre around a twinkling Christmas tree, the audience clutch their hymn sheets nervously, a sense of trepidation in the air. Suddenly the patients each produce a ukulele from beneath their bed sheets and break into a spirited rendition of “Ding Dong Merrily on High”, sweeping the audience along in their enthusiasm. Whilst this approach of being thrown in at the deep end is a little disorientating at first, it is a very efficient way of encouraging audience participation from early on. Throughout the performance, we are invited to perch on the hospital beds, hand out presents (and even the occasional hug!) to the “patients”, join in some ballroom dancing and of course, sing along to all the well-known Christmas carols.
This promenade-style performance, devised by Cardiff-based company Mercury Theatre Wales, has been crafted by five writers using community members’ real life anecdotes and memories, to create a compelling glimpse into five characters’ Christmas stories. The acting is phenomenal, with single actors playing multiple roles; Judith Haley is as convincing as an over-bearing, sharp-tongued mother-in-law as she is as a hyperactive eight-year-old, enchanted by the magic of Christmas.
The characters are not just believable, but relatable as well; the ten-year-old girl more interested in iPhones and twerking than Santa Claus, the frazzled mother trying to keep the whole family happy whilst longingly eyeing up the booze (played wonderfully by Director Bethan Morgan) and the grumpy, old man too stubborn to change his old-fashioned opinions. Every character is well-developed and completely realistic; Dan Young’s fabulous use of lighting, combined with the skill of the actors, creates an almost otherworldly atmosphere, immersing the audience into each new memory with ease, despite the constantly changing set.
The performance struck a perfect balance between humour and sentiment, highlighting a number of social issues including poverty, homelessness and the prejudices they evoke. David Prince’s portrayal of Stephen, an old, dying man refusing to see his grandson because of his recent same-sex marriage, is both tragic and thought-provoking, especially when it is revealed that there is much more to Stephen’s story. The entire narrative is played out through the use of a projection screen to simulate Skype chats; a clever and contemporary touch.
There were two particularly stand-out pieces; the first featured Francesca Goodridge and Sam Harding as a young couple, hopelessly in love during the Second World War. Their entire relationship played out to the background of the war, with real WW2 footage projected onto the screen behind them and one of Churchill’s speeches providing the soundtrack. It perfectly encapsulated the time period from brief moments of respite, demonstrated through a fantastic Charleston, to the eerie wails of the bombing sirens, provided impressively by the cast’s own voices.
The second stand out piece was a hilarious farce of a Christmas dinner, consisting of a wicked mother-on-law, hysterical mother, murderous father (perfectly embodied by Daniel Rochford), do-gooding daughter and a tag-along homeless man by the name of Jesus (pronounced in the Spanish fashion). It took the traditional Christmas cliché of family bickering and amplified it into a brilliant caricature, culminating in half the family chasing each other round the table with a carving knife, before being burst in on by an overzealous policeman wielding a machine gun – surely enough to make anyone’s Christmas antics seem tame!
In addition to providing excellent theatre, Mercury Theatre Wales seeks to give back to the community. Oasis Refugee Centre were invited to provide pre-show entertainment and scaled down versions of the production will be performed at Care Homes across Wales, for residents who may not otherwise have the opportunity to access such events. Regardless of your age, background or personal circumstances, Anamnesis 25.12 is a spectacular piece of theatre which is sure to touch everyone in its compassion, honesty and wonderful festive spirit.
Mercury Theatre Wales
Directed by Bethan Morgan
Cast: Bethan Morgan, David Prince, Sam Harding, Judith Haley, Daniel Rochford, Francesca Goodridge, Angharad Evans & Jordan Woodley.
To find out more about Mercury Theatre Wales visit their website.
Jemma Beggs is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.